Price expects Stephenson to succeed in first Reds start

Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2011 will make his major-league debut at 12:35 p.m. in the finale of the season-opening series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Great American Ball Park.

“The biggest thing is to go out there and have fun,” Stephenson said. “That’s when I’m going to be my best.”

Stephenson, 23, started 88 games in the last four seasons in the minors. He was 25-32 with a 3.80 ERA. He pitched for the Dayton Dragons in 2012 and 2013.

With starting pitchers Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Homer Bailey, Jon Moscot and John Lamb beginning the season on the disabled list, the Reds needed a starter. Manager Bryan Price said it made sense to promote Stephenson because he has touched each level of the minor leagues and has some experience in the big league camp the last three seasons.

It will likely be a one-start stint for Stephenson, Price said, but he can earn more time with a strong performance.

“It may not be the next time through the rotation,” Price said, “but it may be the very first time we need somebody else to start.”

Price wants Stephenson to pitch well enough to give him a hard decision. While it may make sense to tell a young pitcher it’s OK if you struggle because you’re a young guy, Price said it’s not always a good thing to create that soft place for pitchers to land.

“We expect guys to come up here and succeed,” Price said. “This is an opportunity. This is what you always dreamed of. Now go and seize the opportunity.”

Stephenson has three pitches that are above average, Price said: fastball, curveball and splitter. The key will be harnessing those pitches. Stephenson struggled in his last spring start for the Reds, allowing five runs and five walks in three innings against the Brewers on March 29.

“He has to harness the emotion,” Price said, “and get a little bit more exact than he was when he pitched for us against Milwaukee.”

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